CLARKE COUNTY, Va. — Social service workers in the Commonwealth of Virginia are facing a lawsuit for removing two seriously ailing children from their home after falsely accusing their mother of faking their illness.
The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a Virginia-based Christian organization, is suing caseworkers with the Clarke County Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Shenandoah County Department of Social Services, as well as employees of a foster care home, for misconduct and negligence surrounding the matter, which ended with the accusations of “medical child abuse” against the parents being declared unfounded.
The situation began in 2012 when Lane and Susan Funkhauser took their two children, a boy and a girl, to a doctor as the children had not been feeling well, but was unable to diagnose the problem. As the children remained ill, the Funkausers decided to homeschool their children while they sought further medical help so that they would not continue to miss school.
School officials soon filed truancy charges, which were dismissed. However, as a result, the Clarke County Department of Social Services soon became involved in the matter, and social worker Michael Austin accused Susan of having Munchausen Syndrome by proxy, a mental illness in which a parent invents, induces or exaggerates their child’s illness in order to draw attention to themselves.
During this time, the Funkhausers obtained a diagnosis from another doctor, who determined that the children had a combination of strep throat, parasites and a serious and contagious bacterial infection called C. Diff. (short for clostridium difficile) which kills over 14,000 Americans a year. As laboratory tests proved the presence of the C. Diff. infection, the doctor sent the Funkhausers to the hospital, where they were treated and released.
Nonetheless, in July 2012, the Funkhauser’s children were removed from the home by Clarke County DSS. They were taken to the emergency room, where it was confirmed that the children had C. Diff.
However, building off of Austin’s theory, social workers from the neighboring Shenandoah County DSS also became involved and placed the Funkhauser children in foster care. The county went to court over the matter, where a judge allowed them to continue to investigate and interrogate the children.
HSLDA states that during the five weeks that the Funkhauser children were kept in a foster home, one of them injured his ankle, but was denied medical care. On August 29th, a judge ordered the Shenandoah County DSS to release the children, at which time the Funkhausers took their son to the doctor. It was found that their child had a broken ankle, which had gone untreated for three weeks. The Funkhausers were also notified that their children had been exposed to tuberculosis while living at the foster care home, which complicated their already existing health problems as they were consequently placed on anti-tuberculosis drugs for a year.
A month later, social workers decided that the Munchausen Syndrome by proxy claim against Susan Funkhauser was unfounded. DSS sent a letter to the family advising that the case was now closed.
In November, an attorney for Shenandoah County DSS went to court contending that the Funkahusers should be supervised nonetheless, but a judge disagreed, citing the medical evidence from the Funkhauser’s doctor and the court’s own medical investigators.
HSLDA has now filed a lawsuit against Clarke County Department of Social Services and the Shenandoah County Department of Social Services, as well as employees of a foster care home, for misconduct and negligence.
“Parents shouldn’t be afraid to keep looking for medical answers. Taking sick children to doctors until they get a proper diagnosis is good parenting,” the organization stated in a recent report about the matter. “But too often, looking for the right doctor elicits suspicion from social service investigators and medical staff.”
“HSLDA is fighting for [the Funkhausers] because we are sick and tired of seeing parental rights eroded in virtually every area of parenting, including medical and educational decisions,” it continued. “We believe that parents honestly seeking the best treatment for their children should not be punished by irresponsible allegations of child neglect. … When government workers steamroll parents and children, as they did in this case, the government needs a sharp reminder that families have rights.”